HBO Documentary Films 2019: Part I Review

HBO-Documentary-Films-150x150HBO’s 2019 documentary season is behind us and this post will get us up to speed on what they were for the year. Some big exciting & controversial non-fiction entries have caused a stir and others just left us with food for thought. My thoughts on each and every one of these films is here in the order presented. Here is Part I. 

BRESLIN AND HAMILL: DEADLINE ARTISTS

Overview: Brilliant writers, tribunes of the working class and icons of the lost world of newspapering, Jimmy Breslin and his friend Pete Hamill personified New York City. For five decades, these colorful columnists spoke for ordinary people and brought passion, wit and literary merit to their reporting on their city and nation. Their writings probed issues of race, class and the practice of journalism that resonate powerfully today. Breslin and Hamill were also swashbuckling, often controversial personalities whose TV appearances and comings-and-goings around town could be as entertaining as the stories they wrote. Filled with the humor and gusto they both personified, the documentary is a poignant look at two literary giants who epitomized New York during its last and greatest period of print journalism, whose pioneering influence still reverberates today. Debut: Monday, January 28, 2019.

Expectations: I’m from rural America so I don’t know these big city guys from Adam. I don’t know their lives or their journalistic input. But I am game to discover their impact on journalism and the Big Apple. Show me what you’ve got.

Gut Reaction: I didn’t think I’d like it. Though I write I don’t consider myself a journalist and I had no knowledge or care for the characters of this piece. I’ve seen many a documentary for which I was not into the subject. Some I found boring and couldn’t wait to get through, on others I got a real education and on some I left the TV pleasantly surprised. So, where does this one fall? 

I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did. Not only did it give us a strong story about these two newspaper guys and their jobs, but it also gave us a good slice of life as seen through their eyes. They told us of big national stories, like the JFK assassination, and the carrying-ons down in the streets of the city. But, most importantly, it illustrated beautifully that their awesome style of journalism is sadly long gone from today’s newspaper pages.     

Song of Parkland  

Overview: When Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School drama teacher Melody Herzfeld heard the fire alarm on Feb. 14, 2018, she was in rehearsals with her students for their annual children’s musical. Moments later, a Code Red sounded. Herzfeld rushed her 65 students into a storage closet while a shooter killed 17 teachers and students nearby.  Filmed in the months following this documentary chronicles the dedication of that teacher and her theater students as they return to school and reclaimed what was theirs. Debut: Thursday, February 7, 2019.  

Expectations: Without even seeing this documentary you just know that a sense of pride will take over. The 29-minute piece can’t really tell that much of a story but just the fact that this school has utilized yet another means to have their voice be heard as it has done all over the country since the shooting is admirable.  

Gut Reaction: What a brave group of individuals. Collectively, this whole school is the most vocal group of mass shooting survivors going. The country needs that voice and SONG OF PARKLAND is a part of it. I left the documentary wishing them well in their endeavors in life and in their activism.

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? 

Overview: One of the most celebrated theatrical releases of 2018, this documentary takes an intimate look at America’s favorite neighbor: Fred Rogers. It tells the story of a soft-spoken minister, puppeteer, writer and producer whose show was beamed into homes across America daily for more than 30 years. In his beloved television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Rogers and his cast of puppets and friends spoke directly to young children about some of a life’s weightiest issues in a simple, direct fashion. Directed by Morgan Neville. Debut: February 9, 2019. 

Expectations: Ah, nostalgia gets you every time, doesn’t it? Before I even watched this one, I knew I really wanted to because it was just a part of my youth. Most of us what to slip back from time to time to those years of innocence, right? In fact, the timing of this documentary just falls at the right moment and is truly indicative of Fred Rogers’ very nature. I actually couldn’t wait to watch this.  

Gut Reaction: This documentary is through on it subject, in fact, it is the definitive one. We first meet Fred Roger’s in an old B&W clip of him pondering about an educational format for youngsters, to use his word, to help them ‘modulate’ through their developing years and that he was willing to come up with that format. Other TV appearances started him off, but that quickly led into Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and the rest is history. Having grown up a couple of hours away from Pittsburgh, where his set was built & filmed, I was easily caught up in his format and style. Fed Rogers was right up there with Walt Disney and Jim Henson for me. I was also caught up in the format & style of this documentary too. If you were never tuned into public broadcasting then his show is a complete mystery and, if that is the case, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? will admirably introduce you to what you missed. You missed one amazing and unique fellow. 

UNITED SKATES  

Overview: When America’s last standing roller rinks are threatened with closure, a community of thousands battle in a racially charged environment to save an underground African-American subculture. This documentary celebrates a phenomenon that has been overlooked by the mainstream for generations, yet has given rise to some of the world’s greatest musical talents. Directed by Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown. Debut: February 18, 2019. 

Expectations: I laced up roller skates in my early teen years and sucked at it; never had a pair on since. I always took it more as a transportation device and indoor activity and also something equivalent to hula-hoops and skateboards (way before extreme sports came on the picture). It was just a craze. But the Overview & trailer claim it was a whole lot bigger than just that. But, it not just about getting around with wheels on your shoes, is it?

Gut Reaction: No, it is not. This is not a documentary about the fun & frivolity surrounding the roller skate craze; it is not even the history of the activity stemming from Roller-Disco. It is really about the systemic loss of Black culture social centers. It proved to be a more interesting documentary than I thought for that reason. I grew up & still live in a rural little town that has seen little diversity over the decades. We even had a roller rink at one time but it was never like the ones depicted here. So, this documentary was a big surprise to me. Hell, I didn’t know that Queen Latifah got started as roller rink entertainment nor did I know all the moves you could do on roller skates or how much the Black community loves to take several spins around the wood floor.

IT’S A HARD TRUTH, AIN’T IT 

Overview: Filmed during the production of the HBO Films drama O.G. in Indiana’s Pendleton Correctional Facility, an active maximum-security prison, this companion documentary is co-directed by Madeleine Sackler and 13 of its inmates, several of whom were also cast as first-time actors in O.G. These men study documentary filmmaking as a vehicle to explore their memories and examine how they ended up with decades-long sentences. Debut: February 25, 2019 

Expectations: I don’t know if this needs to be 1 hour and 14 minutes long, but I get it. Those incarcerated with the inclination to do better took up filmmaking interests while being a part of HBO Films: O. G. That’s okay but I’m indifferent to it at this point. There is no trailer to help set up this piece so I’ll let you know what I’m thinking after I watch it.  

Gut Reaction: Well, this has got to be a first. Has anyone made a film for a mainstream audience while in prison? I mean, this isn’t someone taking the reins to film prisoners doing their time; this is a film by the inmates themselves beginning to end as a companion piece to an HBO program. This is a milestone for them and the prison system. It takes something negative and turns it into a positive one. This is also not just a poor ass broke documentary with a bunch of talking heads either. The inmates interview each other about their experiences and they are not just indifferent behind-the-microphone voices. They relate, they sympathize and they emote back and forth in some interesting moments. They also kick the quality up a notch with the stylized animation incorporated to tell their tales. They didn’t so the animated work, but that’s okay, they did quite a bit to occupy their time and to channel all things into something positive and I can’t stress how important that can and should be for someone doing time. 

LEAVING NEVERLAND 

Overview: This two-part documentary explores the separate but parallel experiences of two young boys, James Safechuck, at age ten, and Wade Robson, at age seven, both of whom were befriended by Michael Jackson. Through gut-wrenching interviews with Safechuck, now 37, and Robson, now 41, as well as their mothers, wives and siblings, the film crafts a portrait of sustained abuse, exploring the complicated feelings that led both men to confront their experiences after both had a young son of their own. Directed by Dan Reed. Debut: March 3 & 4, 2019. 

Expectations: Wow, this slaps you hard doesn’t it? This is no sensationalistic tabloid fodder. This is big stuff that made the rounds and settles in at HBO. It should be something that gets talked about for a long time. I mean, it is not just a story of abuse, but abuse from one of the biggest pop culture icons we to date. I can’t wait to watch it.  

Gut Reactions: No lie but I watched this documentary twice; once when it debuted back in March and once again just a few days ago in anticipation of writing this paragraphThe reverberations from LEAVING NEVERLAND still rumble. There is even a lawsuit against HBO for its presentation of the allegations and it just won Emmy awards including Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special. You can understand all the ruckus. Director Dan Reed laid it all out on the table for us to digest giving the victims four hours and 5 minutes to tell their side of events.  

But, is it a good documentary? Well, it stands as a shocker for sure. It is only about the largest and last global pop culture icon we’ve had. The piece and this is an argument that has been cited against it, is only one-sided and therefore construed as unfair & unbalanced. But the video testimonies of James & Wade are through on timeline, detailed (sometimes explicitly) on particulars and simply draw the viewer to hang on to every word that they and their mothers say. The four hours go by fast and you are left numb. Even after his death, Michael Jackson touches us and not with his music but in a manner we couldn’t fathom.  

OPRAH WINFREY PRESENTS: AFTER NEVERLAND  

Overview: Oprah Winfrey hosts a conversation featuring Wade Robson and James Safechuck, alongside Leaving Neverland director Dan Reed, before an audience of survivors of sexual abuse and others whose lives have been impacted by it. (Debut: March 4, 2019, right after LEAVING NEVERLAND Part II)   

Expectations: It takes away from the unimportant focus of such a story but I can’t help thinking why Winfrey needed to get into the mix. Was it too sensationalistic a topic to pass up? Did she sense that America needed her calming wisdom? She does seem intuitive in knowing what society needs to hear. But again, the interviewer isn’t what is important here, it is the incidents and the conversation that can be had about it all that counts, but can something new be said?     

Gut Reaction: At the top of the session, as shown, the interviewer alleviated my fears. Sexual assault was the focal point of the moment as it should have been. Never underestimate Oprah. But was it a rehash or an important dialogue to be had here? 

THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED 

Overview: This four-part documentary series explores the 1999 disappearance and murder of 18-year-old Baltimore County high school student Hae Min Lee and the subsequent conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed. Oscar nominee Amy Berg casts a fresh eye on the case first brought to global attention by the hugely popular “Serial” podcast. Bringing the story to life visually, she revisits the crime and follows developments from 2014 to today. Presenting new information that questions the state’s case and featuring exclusive access to essential characters, the series examines how Syed’s trial and subsequent conviction in 2000 raised as many questions as they answered. Debut: March 10, 2019 and the three consecutive nights following. This film has also been covered by another writer for HBOWatch. 

Expectations: At first, I was thinking why this case warranted a four-night special. I could understand it for something like THE LIVE AND DEATHS OF ROBERT DURST because it focused on more than one alleged crime by the man, but the Syed case was one isolated crime. When I went back over the particulars and I realized I glossed over an important fact. The Adnan Syed case was scrutinized on the podcast “Serial” and since not everyone does the podcast thing this HBO documentary is the visualized version of that “Serial” program. Thus, the four-night format.   

Gut Reaction: I want Ellie’s reviews (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV) to stand as the definitive one on this one, so if you haven’t hit the links above yet, do so. In relationship to my Expectations above, I can say that no time was wasted in these four installments. Part I is the fundamentals of the case; Part II is a breakdown of timeline and its discrepancies; Part III the unreliable testimonies and retrial and Part IV is about the failed testing and analyses that compounded the case making it a convoluted case at best. The four-part approach helps make it easier to digest it all. Stick with it and the scrutiny pays off. 

THE INVENTOR: OUT FOR BLOOD IN SILICON VALLEY 

Overview: Oscar and Emmy-winning director/producer Alex Gibney’s riveting documentary traces the meteoric rise and precipitous decline of Elizabeth Holmes and her company, Theranos. With a new invention that promised to revolutionize blood testing and provide low-cost early detection of diseases and infection, Holmes became the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire, heralded as the next Steve Jobs. Within a few months, her $9-billion company was worthless. The documentary tells a Silicon Valley tale that was too good to be true. Debut: March 28, 2019.   

Expectations: As if you hadn’t had enough of just shaking your head in disbelief with the LEAVING NEVERLAND film comes this one. Unbelievable what people try to do to others. I have no doubt that filmmaker Gibney will be through and fill in all the gaps in the story that I have. It came piecemeal to me and this should be the definitive on this deplorable scam.     

Gut Reaction: First, two things crossed my mind after this one. First, I wanted to jump into the screen and give this gal a piece of my mind and second, I appreciate a documentary that spells it out concisely as opposed to reading from one newspaper and another to get the whole story straight as it unfolded. You tend to miss important points along the way but holding out for such a piece as this really encapsulates all the news and makes a tight presentation. 

But as good as it is it seems unfinished. I could think of a number of avenues this documentary could have taken time to travel down to make this story complete. How did this all get rolling anyway? The level of greed goes beyond just the non-blinking delusional look from Elizabeth Holmes. How could investors and scientists be duped by the magical Edison MiniLab box? It ends not as definitive as I had hoped because as curious as we were for what made Holmes tick. She wasn’t the whole story here and this piece made her out to be so and missed an opportunity. Still a good enough one from Gibney. 

ONE NATION UNDER STRESS  

Overview: Stunned by reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that life expectancy in the United States is declining for the first time in more than a century, Dr. Sanjay Gupta sets out to see what’s happening and why. While looking at society through the state of its health, he discovers an epidemic of self-inflicted deaths of despair (caused by drug overdoses, chronic liver disease and suicide) that are driven by an increasingly stressed America. Directed by Marc Levin. Debut: March 25, 2019 

Expectations: Ah, stress, where would life be without it. I’m not out to rebuff Dr. Gupta or dismiss the problem here, but this doesn’t seem to be a piece for HBO Documentary Films. Perhaps I just feel that way due to the heavy hitters we’ve viewed as of late. Here is hoping there are helpful tips here and not just statistics that we are all under pressure.  

Gut Reaction: Dr. Gupta spells out here three major impacts of stress in our lives that lead to deaths – suicide, drug overdoses and cirrhosis of the liver. Americans have locked into the instinctual ‘fight or flight’ mode. Fighting the stresses can take its toll; flight from them leads to drugs, alcohol and worse. The good doctor is into homes here talking with the average citizen about their stresses and how they are facing them. He also checks with other professionals to track the trends of just how poorly society is handling it all. As Gupta weighs through all this and even his own family stresses we come up with no real resolution or positive outcome. He himself admits to no solution to the self-destructive behavior that exists. 

ON TOUR WITH ASPERGER’S ARE US 

Overview: Executive produced by Mark and Jay Duplass, this six-part series follows the first all-autistic comedy troupe as it navigates its first cross-country tour. Crammed into a relic of an RV that’s on the verge of explosion, the team of four hits the road for six weeks, testing their understanding of friendship, comedy and carburetors. Directed by Alex Lehmann. Debut: April 30, May 01 & May 02, 2019 

Expectations: I think this is an awesome concept. Now I have little understanding of Asperger’s but I do know that what these guys are trying to accomplish all while dealing with the affliction has got to be a challenge. I just hope for two things here. One, that I can make it through six episodes of this, though I get the format (a six-week tour covered in six installments, two airing a night), it needs to hold my attention that long. The second hope is that these guys are funny. Let’s find out.    

Gut Reaction: Foolish me. I mean to think these guys, Noah Britton, Ethan Finlan, Jack Hanke and New Michael Ingemi, had to be laugh-out-loud funny to make this work. The comedy isn’t the focus here, right? The focus is people challenging their shared illness and not letting it hold back their lives. These fellows achieve that hands down. We get a strong feel for their condition and their quirks and see that they all hold their own roles in this foursome. We witness them purchasing the required RV and figuring out how best to survive in their rolling home as they head to Boston, New York City and Baltimore.  

The piece doesn’t set out to explain life on the autism spectrum but just offers up that here are our characters testing out their comedy and they just so happen to be Asperger sufferers. I can see where viewers could quibble that neither theme gets strong play here. It is not solely about autistic people nor is it all about amateur comedians getting a chance. Well, to me the comedy portions weren’t that funny so that didn’t hold my attention at all. The off-the-stage moments are what holds this together at all. These young men are shining examples though, of people on the spectrum leading productive lives and pursuing dreams and that is the important takeaway for me.

AT THE HEART OF GOLD: INSIDE THE USA GYMNASTICS SCANDAL  

Overview: An inside look at the sexual abuse scandal that shook the sports world in 2017, this film examines how Dr. Larry Nassar, the osteopathic physician for the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team, went undeterred for so many years. Featuring exclusive interviews with survivors and offering insights going beyond the headlines, the documentary shines a light on the brave gymnasts who share their stories and whose courageous efforts reveal a dangerous system that prioritized winning over everything else. Directed by Erin Lee Carr. Debut: May 03, 2019 

Expectations: I’ll appreciate seeing this one simply because as the news happens you don’t always catch every breaking story on the topic and seeing a documentary summarizing it all plus adding exclusive interviews gives you the complete picture and some finer points that were missed when it was happening. I don’t know the whole story here and after some distance from it all now I can get clarity Documentaries, especially the HBO kind for me, are good at that.  

Gut Reaction: Anger, pure anger at this man is what I feel. This film does fill in all of the pieces about the history of abuse here and its aftermath. And anger wells the whole way through it. You’ve got to understand that I appreciate it when a documentary can bring that type of strong emotion out. Not all factual films do that but this one did from the start. Early in the piece the testimonials & expert insights spell out how the environment and personalities involved enabled the abuse. The Karolyi training center and Michigan State played a big role to allow this fun, kind doctor to violate young athletes right in front of people. That was a shocker – that the vaginal trigger treatment happened with coaches/parents in the room!  

The vital and necessary inclusion of the trial, the victim impact statements and the pathetic, disgraced Nassar brought around full circle, however, that rightful justice was served. The anger finally subsides and the understanding that it never should have happened but that in the end survivors are healing and moving on leaving you to feel that they will be alright. This was a difficult and unsettling story told well.           

 FOSTER 

Overview: Drawing on unprecedented access, this film traces a complex path through the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services. Oscar winners Deborah Oppenheimer and Mark Jonathan Harris upend some of the most enduring myths about foster care, going beyond the sensational headlines and stereotypes. Interweaving first-hand stories of those navigating the child protection system with insights from social workers, lawyers and other advocates, the film offers a realistic but hopeful perspective on a community that needs society’s support. Debut: May 7, 2019 

Expectations: I am in no way involved in any aspect of the foster care system but I am completely acceptable of its efforts to give children =, of any age, a chance at life. Before even watching this or even its trailer I am sure FOSTER is going to point out the joys of successful foster families and the inevitable failures and overwhelming burdens of the system itself. But regardless of the setbacks, the film will end on a positive note as not to discourage those from becoming foster parents 

Gut Reaction: The stories about the foster system and those under its care are vast and too numerous to mention but this work does strive to look at all angles of the situation. We see those who have lost custody of their children, foster parents and the foundlings now in their care and a look at the system at work itself. The filmmakers just focus on L.A County but it serves as the example of the system nationwide. And Earcylene Beavers serves us the choice foster parent who has taken on many youths through the years. She gets her dues here.  

What is missing is more of a balance of the truth here. Yes, there are successful truths to be heralded but the struggles of the system should have been represented more. The child protection services job is not an easy one. More of the issues within the system should have been addressed without making it a gloomy documentary of yet another broken system. In fact, after watching this I’m not sure it is a broken system, just an overwhelmed one. FOSTER does male you shout about the good that it serves.

GAME OF THRONES: THE LAST WATCH 

Debut: May 26, 2019, and already covered by another writer for HBOWatch. For a year, filmmaker Jeanie Finlay was embedded on the set of “Game of Thrones,” chronicling the creation of the show’s most ambitious and complicated season. The result is this film which provides an intimate portrait from the trenches of production, following the crew and the cast as they contend with extreme weather, punishing deadlines and a fandom hungry for spoilers. 


Expectations: What can I say, the fans will devour anything. They will be delighted about this. 

Gut Reaction: It packs a lot about the behind-the-scenes efforts in creating the show, but I will simply default to a devout fan’s look at it as this kind of documentary falls me. A treat for those who need it. Here is a better take on it from Ellie.

RUNNING WITH BETO 

Overview: This behind-the-scenes documentary follows Beto O’Rourke’s rise from virtual unknown to national political sensation through his bold attempt to unseat Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Embedded with the campaign for a year, the film follows his journey through intimate access to O’Rourke, his family and a team of political newcomers who champion a new way of getting to know a candidate — one Texas county at a time. Directed by David Modigliani. Debut: May 28, 2019

Expectations: Oh. HBO. This is just a political ad and I’m not happy it’s here. At least that is my take before I even watch it. It has nothing to do with a political stance for or against him. It has to do with the type of programming I think HBO should air and what appears to be a political ad does not fit those criteria. 

Gut Reaction: I believe without a doubt that this is the authentic, intimate and truthful day-in-the-life look at who this politician is. Again, I am not opposed to him per se or the journey he has taken or that it was even cinematically chronicled. I’m just disappointed that HBO dipped into this well. Just because the documentary was a big SXSW hit and he came a hot topic doesn’t mean HBO should have aired a political ad on its platform. Okay, so it is not a blatant ad but it is also not an IN HIS OWN WORDS style of film either. If you feel I’m all wrong on this then call me out, But, I didn’t care for its inclusion here at all.  

THE COLD BLUE

Overview: In 1943, legendary Hollywood director William Wyler and his film crew flew combat missions on B-17 bombers to document the fierce air battles of World War II. Over 70 years later, the footage was discovered in the vaults of the National Archives. After painstaking, shot-by-shot sound and picture restoration, director Erik Nelson has constructed a new film out of the material. Debut: June 06, 2019 

Expectations: There are two simple points to be made here. One, we never seem to get tired of WWII stories and that the restoration of this found footage makes it that much more interesting because the actual heroes are no longer among us and are brought back through this cinematic rescue. I’m sure the story will be rich and fulfilling; Wyler did film such greats as Ben-Hur, Friendly PersuasionRoman Holiday and The Best Years Of Our Lives

Gut Reaction: It is cool that the Hollywood director had the opportunity to fly aboard the Memphis Belle and other Army aircraft during his enlisted stint and film the aerial missions through the war. It is also cool that this is true raw footage and actual events of the campaign with nothing scripted and nothing added for a needed action sequence. It was all real and all there. That aspect might bore some and it would me also if the film was not a brisk 1 hour and 13 minutes.I think the descriptive narrative from survivng vets, all in their 90’s, added in seal the deal as an effective piece.It is also cool that this footage was painstakingly restored to honor the Eighth Air Force. There are not many opportunities left to document that time in history., It is a good watch if you are so interested.              

ICE ON FIRE 

Overview: This eye-opening film explains the present-day effects of excess carbon on planetary systems large and small, and explores the ways people can reduce carbon input to the atmosphere, as well as “draw down” the existing excess. Shot in nine countries around the world, the documentary visits visionaries and scientists young and old who are innovating cutting-edge efforts to mitigate climate change and minimize climate-related events, despite a rapidly warming planet. Directed by Leila Conners. Debut June 11, 2019. 

Expectations:  This seems, at first glance, to be a very cut-and-dry approach to the problem. Very simply, I say, regardless of whether you believe of man-made climate degradation or of a more natural cyclical pattern occurring, the facts remain that the environment is altering to a more dangerous scenario for us. Is there anything we can do to lessen the severity?   

Gut Reaction: As this film travels over vistas from the Arctic to the rainforests the biggest point to be made here is that carbon-capture technology is the answer. The film doesn’t delve much into what has been happening because we had a good decade or so addressing that; DiCaprio himself has already things like solar power arrays, underwater kelp farms and carbon sequestration. The days of talking doom are over the time for action is now and that tone raises hope for success. The work has begun.   

The film visits places such as the al Redwood Forrest Foundation in Northern California, highlighting a carbon-storage project that focuses on reforestation and creates “biochar” to put CO2 back into the soil. It goes to the Ron Finley farm in Los Angeles, where members of the community grow food that takes carbon out of the air. There is also an air capture machine in Zurich and the Thimble Island Ocean Farm off the coast of Connecticut. All of these examples of front-li8ne work, as it were, can’t hurt. So, regardless of your stance you should be at least be on board for improving the health of the only planet we’ve got. And perhaps give this documentary a look.    

WIG 

Overview: This documentary focuses on drag culture past and present through the revival of Wigstock, the iconic NYC annual drag queen festival, starring famous drag queen Lady Bunny and emcee Neil Patrick Harris. The documentary looks at Wigstock’s comeback 13 years after the last festival in 2005 and will feature archival footage, home movies and a wide-ranging cast of characters. Debut June 18, 2019 

Expectations: Ow, here we go with one way out of my wheelhouse. I can handle it though; I remember seeing some of this subculture stuff when REAL SEX was an HBO regular. The camera once again trains its lens on a walk of life getting more and more settled as a facet of our world. It is documentaries like this that make it so.  

Gut Reaction: So, the film is a chronicle of how the subculture bubbled up and started expressing itself more boldly when it went from the underground club to out on the street. Wigstock was that expression. Then, basically, Rupaul hit and everything changed again. Now, in 2018 we saw the rebirth of the festival. The subculture now strives to be more mainstream than the subcultural vibe it once was. In fact, as I investigated others’ thoughts on this documentary, that was their main fault with it all. Drag culture is no longer a mystique but out there and in your face and as the more expert studiers of the culture say that is the antithesis of the whole shebang to begin with. Again, that’s lost on me. It is clearly alright for me to get a dose of it all from HBO but I hope those deep in the culture get more out of it and Wigstock.  

TRUE JUSTICE: BRYAN STEVENSON’S FIGHT FOR EQUALITY 

Overview: An intimate profile of pioneering lawyer/activist Bryan Stevenson, who has dedicated his life to fighting for equality in the criminal justice system, while advocating for a movement to reconcile the past in order to claim a brighter American future. Debut June 26, 2019 

Expectations: Here is a gentleman just on the periphery of my knowledge. I’ve heard of him but know little about him. This documentary will not necessarily fill in the gaps about the man but his ideals, his goals and his pursuit of equality will surely dominate the work. The examination of this work will surely help to define the man.  

Gut Reaction: Bryan Stevenson is clearly a good man to have around. He has done good work but the focus here is his initiative to provide legal services to death row inmates, guilty or not. He is out for equal justice for all! He cites the historical inequalities that can’t be ignored and shows how today’s incarcerations can be and an extension of that. Back then it was called lynching and today it is unfair and unequal punishments. That is best served here by the example of Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent nearly 30 years on Alabama’s death row before being exonerated for crimes he did not commit. He follows that up however with his ideas concerning the societal factors that create injustice and what can be done to counteract them.  

Stevenson presents his case with eloquence, as he should as a career lawyer of great success. His mindset and dedication is a testament to who he is. This is a good, strong argument to take on and upon an hour and 41 minutes presenting his case, as it were, you feel his job of equal justice for all just might be won. I wish him well in that. 

In Conclusion: that is a wrap for a look at the first half of HBO’s year on the documentary front. Part II is forthcoming.  

 

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